You can make a case that Michael Jordan was as good at his job as anyone has been at their job ever in any aspect of life. He not only went 6-0 in the Finals and won six Finals MVPs with the Chicago Bulls during the ’90s, but His Airness set several individual records, including being the all-time leader in points per game and player efficiency rating.
Being talented in basketball is one thing, but having an elite competitive drive and will to be great is what separated Jordan from the rest of his peers during his playing days. The Bulls legend, who never minces his words, has never called himself the best basketball player of all time, but he does believe he’s the greatest competitor ever.
Michael Jordan believes he’s the most competitive athlete ever
During his final All-Star Game in 2003, Jordan sat down with the late great John Thompson for a special interview on TNT. Thompson asked the six-time champion if he ever met anyone as competitive as him, and Jordan confidently said “no.”
“I just feel that my competitive drive is far greater than anyone else that I’ve met,” Jordan said. “I think that I thrive on that. I think that’s my biggest motivation in life. To compete, find different competitions in certain things in life and try to overcome that. I have yet to meet someone who is as competitive as me. I just feel that much confident about my competitive drive.”
As we learned in the Last Dance docuseries, Jordan took everything personally in basketball, and there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to get himself to the place mentally where he could beat his opponent. But where did that competitive drive originate? It didn’t start in high school, college, or the NBA.
Jordan’s competitiveness actually started when he was a kid growing up in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Michael Jordan wouldn’t have been as competitive as he was without the confrontations he had with his brother
Jordan and his older brother, Larry, used to play basketball against each other when they were kids. Their father, James, pushed them harder if he thought they weren’t doing the best they could, and that drove MJ since Larry was better than him as a kid.
In episode 2 of the Last Dance, the Bulls icon admitted that he always felt he was fighting his brother for his father’s attention. After losing to his brother quite a bit as a youngster, Michael’s determination became even greater to be as good, if not better, than his brother once he got to high school.
Jordan didn’t make the varsity team at Emsley A. Laney as a sophomore. With a great pep talk from his mother, though, the six-time Finals MVP worked hard during the following summer and became a superstar his junior year. From there, the rest is history. Jordan played three years of college at UNC before getting drafted by the Bulls with the third overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft.
For anyone back in North Carolina who thought Jordan’s competitive drive would decrease after getting to the NBA and making significant money, they were wrong. In fact, the 14-time All-Star took his competitiveness to an extra gear against the best basketball players in the world.
Some of MJ’s best competition-related stories
Being compared to another Hall of Fame player would usually make someone happy. However, Jordan was frustrated when pundits said he and Portland Trail Blazers guard Clyde Drexler were similar players when the Bulls and Blazers met in the 1992 Finals.
Jordan took offense to Drexler being compared to him, so he made it a point to attack the Blazers star in every game of the ’92 Finals. The five-time MVP averaged 35.8 points and led the Bulls to the championship.
One of the best competition-related stories involving Jordan has to be the LaBradford Smith anecdote from 1993. On March 19, Smith scored 37 points against the Bulls in Chicago and limited Jordan to 9-of-27 shooting from the field. The rumor at the time was that Smith came up to MJ after the contest and said, “Nice game.”
The following night, the Bulls faced the Washington Bullets again, this time in D.C. On the plane ride from Chicago to Washington, Jordan supposedly told his teammates he would score 37 points in the first half to send Smith a message. The Bulls superstar dropped 36 in the first half and finished with 47. He took such umbrage at Smith saying, “Nice game Mike” that he humiliated him.
You won’t find many — if any — players who have that mindset. That’s what made Jordan unique and an all-time great.